W hen my family and I to Houston in the 1970s, the first chance I had to try my luck with artificials along the Texas coast was with the venerable Kelley Wiggler soft plastic shrimp tail.
It was a steep learning curve to figure out what weight lead head jig to use with the Wiggler, what color, and how to put action into the retrieve. Red/white was the go-to choice of color by just about any angler you met along the coast.
Cabela’s lists more than 625 different styles and brands of soft plastic lures with probably double or triple as many different colors and color combinations.
As I talked with a guide friend, Capt. John Little of Corpus Christi, we got into a discussion about the soft plastic shrimp tails, which ones he prefers and how to use them when fishing the Upper Laguna Madre.
Even though the winds may be blowing hard from the north in December, he ties on an 1/8-ounce lead head. “A lot of folks will switch over to a heavier weight in high wind,” Little explained, but I stick with the 1/8-ounce just because the presentation of that lure is more natural.”
He works soft plastic shrimp tails over sand pockets all along the King Ranch shoreline this time of the year. His ultimate choice is based not on a brand name, but the shape, action, or lack of action, and color.
“I typically use Gambler Flapp’n Shad,” he said. “The difference between the Down South and Gambler is the shape of the tail. The Down South has kind of like a willow tail instead of big round tail. The Gambler Flapp’n Shad has a rounder tail. That little variance creates more of a reaction strike from fish as it drops; the trout seem to react to it a little better.”
Little describes it (Down South) as an ‘effortless bait.’ “Cast it out; it doesn’t take much action from the angler. The tail moves as you retrieve it.”
Bass Assassins come in a variety of different type of tails from the traditional paddle tail, to a long straight tail, to curly tails.
What about the different colors in any of the baits? There are the traditional colors such black, white, purple, etc. There are some where the bait manufacturer gets creative with the colors and color names. Chicken-on-a-Chain is a chicken chained up, right? Or Drunk Monkey is a long tail primate who has had one too many drinks swinging from the rafters.
Little’s color choices are pretty simple. In clear water, it’s a clear or natural-looking bait. “For dark or murkier water, you go to a bright or darker color,” he said.” If it’s really overcast, you use a darker presentation such as a red/black choice, or a pink.” Pink isn’t a darker colored soft plastic? “Sometimes pink will work really well in overcast conditions”
With all the different tail types, does Little add any extra action to stimulate the fish into striking? “If the tail is vibrating or moving on the retrieve, just reel it in,” he said. “Otherwise you have to impart action to the bait as you retrieve.
“That’s why you have to know the experience and skill of your clients you are guiding. If they don’t fish much, or haven’t used soft plastics, you switch over to live shrimp under a popping cork. I’ve used rattles before, but I never had any luck with them. I don’t use any other scents or attractants.”
“Another variant to consider, Gamblers have some sort of a scent on them,” said Little. “Not sure what it is, but when you open up a packet it sort has a garlic smell. Berkley’s Gulp isn’t a soft plastic by virtue of the definition of a soft plastic, but the bait packs an attractant smell that draws fish in.
“On some soft plastics you have to work it, have to know what you are doing to get a fish to strike. You can’t just do a blind cast, reel it in, and catch one.”
Soft plastic bait choices have exploded over the past 25 years. You can still find Kelley Wigglers on the shelves, although owned by a different person now. Or make another choice, examine the different tails and color selections.
Location: Portland Shoreline
Species: Speckled trout, redfish, black drum
Best Bait: Live shrimp, mullet
Tips: Fish early for the best bite
Email Tom Behrens at [email protected]